Our Story

BALT Founders: (from left to right) Dorcas Gilmore, Charlene Dukes, Matthew Zernhelt, Iman Freeman, and Jenny Egan (Photography: Les Talusan)

In April 2015, local community organizations quickly joined together in support of Baltimore residents appeal for justice and accountability in the days following the killing of Freddie Gray in police custody. This newly formed coalition, Baltimore United for Change, issued a call to lawyers, legal workers and activists for support in their endeavors. The Baltimore Action Legal Team (“BALT”) formed in response to that call, under guidance from local legal professionals and activists, as well as from the Black Movement-Law ProjectCenter for Constitutional Rights, and other outside experts. Within days of the initial request, BALT began holding legal observer trainings and established a Jail Support team. Through this, BALT trained hundreds of lawyers, law students, and activists in legal observation and jail support.  When the Baltimore Police Department began mass arrests of protesters, BALT legal observers played a key role in documenting who was being arrested while the Jail Support team determined who was held at Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC). Once it became clear that protestors were being illegally held without charge, BALT helped coordinate a legal strategy that led to the release of over a hundred protesters. For over a week, BALT manned a 24 hour, 7 day a week jail support team outside of BCDC, greeting detainees upon their release, documenting their stories, and gathering critical legal information.

After the uprising, we committed ourselves to supporting grassroots organizations and providing much needed legal education and assistance to the Baltimore community.  BALT supports community-led efforts to address racial injustices focused on inequities in the criminal justice system.  These efforts fall into the categories of community education, rapid response, training, research and advocacy. 

Not Your Average Lawyers

  • We don’t employ the traditional legal services model.  Lawyers are often too specialized or too risk adverse to meet the needs of the community; Organizations need access to legal information on their terms and in their communities. BALT is positioned to connect our audiences to provide legal assistance to organizations in the ways and places they need.

  • We don't just talk about mass incarceration, we go to central booking and bail out women, so they can be home with their families on Mother's Day. 

  • When asked by community leaders to create a brain trust of attorneys committed to supporting organizations in Baltimore, we did it.